The Success of Family Mediation in Other Countries

A global brand

Family mediation is now available around the globe, in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas. The ability of this alternative dispute resolution method to put down roots over the last thirty both regionally and nationally has undeniably been inconsistent, but its geographic spread has been inexorable and in some countries it has blossomed and been fully integrated into the framework of family law.

A home grown US success story?

Family mediation in divorce was first officially recognised and associated into a legal framework in California in 1939. It has since become a fixture in the United States being mandatory in thirteen states and discretionary in twenty two. Interestingly in the states where its employment is mandatory, family mediation has achieved the highest success rates.

Its universal acceptance as a resource in the United States has not however caused it to be looked upon as a serious alternative to representation by a lawyer by either the general public or the legal profession itself. It is still perceived, perhaps as a throwback to its originals during the Great Depression, as being the poor person’s alternative to the law. That said practitioners outside of the US, still look on that country as the spiritual home of family mediation and it is still recognised as a hotbed of innovative developments in the field.

The European experience

The progress and success of family mediation in Europe has had a somewhat more chequered history than in North America. It has however followed more or less the same developmental path in each European country it has reached over the last three decades but with drastically different success outcomes. Ideas were generally picked up upon from areas of the world where family mediation was already being practiced and introduced on a wave of euphoric enthusiasm, by practitioners who rapidly formed themselves into professional organisations.

From that point onwards the fortunes of family mediation varied greatly from country to country. In some it was quickly recognised as a viable alternative to the adversarial court system, eventually receiving legal regulation or absorption into various other regulatory or best practice frameworks. In other countries it languished, ignored by government and the legal profession and operating on a small scale private basis albeit with not an insignificant number of extremely highly trained mediation specialists at its disposal.

Currently (2013) is possible to zone the levels of utilisation of family mediation across Europe in the following ways:

Family mediation – levels of utilisation across Europe

Area Era of introduction Incorporated into legislation or other regulatory frameworks? Use/awareness

In Eastern Europe, family mediation was introduced in the 1980’s but awareness and use of it has remained low.

The same is true of Southern Europe where (excluding Spain) the use and awareness of family mediation has been low.

In Spain there has been fairly high use and awareness of mediation which has become firmly embedded in legislation.

The same is true of Scandinavia which only introduced mediation in the 1990’s but has experienced a very positive response towards it. In Northern Europe there were mixed reactions.

False dawns and compulsion

There have been shining examples of progress in gaining a greater acceptance for the use of family mediators around the world. Sometimes these have proved to be flashes in the pan, false dawns such as France’s hosting of the first European conference on family mediation in 1990 only for the country to experience two decades of foot dragging by the legislature and legal profession before family mediation was considered a general component in family proceedings – and it still not widely used.

Occasionally though there has been progress that has resulted in a national step change of opinion as has been the case in Australia with family mediation’s elevation into the national spotlight in The Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006. Other countries, such as Austria, Belgium and UK have successfully embedded (or are in the process of doing so) the use of family mediation into legislation

People like to sit on the spot

Generally however, it has so far proved that only where exposure to family mediation is mandatory does it gain the exposure, cultural acceptance (sometimes) and significant success rates that would signify that it has fulfilled anything near its full potential. Where is not mandatory, it tends not be sought, used or particularly successful. We are all seemingly still firmly wedded to the idea that you need legal representation to divorce, even when a far more effective and less bruising alternative would suit some of us much better.

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